Deliveroo under fire for ‘unenforceable’ clauses as gig economy legal case looms
A delivery company has been criticised for adding clauses to its self-employed cycle couriers’ contracts stating that they cannot bring court action to claim they are employees or workers, according to a report in the Guardian.
Deliveroo, which delivers ‘premium takeaways’ to consumers across London, uses self-employed couriers who are paid around £7 per hour, plus an additional fee per delivery. They are required to provide their own bike and phone.
But while couriers at other firms are bringing a tribunal to challenge their employment status, Deliveroo is accused of trying to pre-empt future legal challenges by asking couriers to sign a contract with a clause that reads: “You further warrant that neither you nor anyone acting on your behalf will present any claim in the employment tribunal or any civil court in which it is contended that you are either an employee or a worker.”
A further clause states that if they do take legal action they must “indemnify and keep indemnified Deliveroo against costs (including legal costs) and expenses that it incurs”.
In a statement, Deliveroo defended the practice. “We provide a platform for people to work with us on a freelance basis,” it said. “This allows riders to work flexibly around another commitment, like studying or other work. We’ve worked with legal experts to design our contracts to reflect that and we’re proud to be creating opportunities for more than 5,000 riders across the UK.”
Michael Newman, partner at law firm Leigh Day, said the clauses were likely to be legally unenforceable because they attempted to exclude or limit established employment rights, and imposed penalties.
He added that they may have been designed to deter workers from following the example of other couriers by taking legal action. “Penalty clauses in contracts are unenforceable and it is likely that any clause attempting to bar access to an employment tribunal would be seen as without commercial justification and unconscionable, and therefore a penalty,” he said.
“Deliveroo is using a standard contract on a take-it-or-leave-it basis, and the worker can’t bargain with them. They either sign the contract or walk away. [The clauses] have been put there to scare workers – they’re going to think twice before they do anything.”
The couriers’ case is being brought by the Independent Workers Union of Great Britain (IWGB), and will be heard by a tribunal later this year. It is attempting to establish that self-employed cycle couriers should be given enhanced employment rights, and is seen as a challenge to the growing ‘gig economy’ of self-employed individuals working for large businesses.
Jason Moyer-Lee, IWGB general secretary, said the case “can only serve to benefit Deliveroo’s riders as they are currently living up to their obligations on what a worker must do without obtaining any of the benefits that are meant to be provided to them by law”.
He said that if the couriers in the case were successful, it would create further opportunities for individuals to challenge their employment status. “In particular, trade union rights – the right to strike, right to representation and collective bargaining – can flow from a classification as worker, so winning this case may pave the way for more effective collective action in the future,” he said.
The case will follow two closely watched tribunals currently being heard in London, at which lawyers representing Uber drivers are arguing they should be legally classed as workers as opposed to self-employed contractors. This would entitle them to rights including holiday pay, pensions, sick pay and the national minimum wage.